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By: Barry Burch Jr.
On Tuesday, a lawsuit came into the works alleging copyright infringement against Usher, Mark Wahlberg and Run DMC. The suit stems from the song “Different Strokes,” recorded by “Syl Jonhnson,” or Sylvester Thompson, back in 1967. Twilight Records and Syl-Zel Music filed a complaint in court claiming these artists used samples of Johnson’s song “Different Strokes.” As the owners of the song’s copyright, they are seeking money damages for the sampling.
This is not the first time there has been litigation over this song either. In 2011, Johnson sued Jay Z and Kanye West for using “Different Strokes” material in their song “Watch the Throne;” a suit that later reached a settlement. The complaint states that the following songs used samples of Johnson’s 1967 hit: Usher- “Call Me Mack”, Run-D.M.C.- “Naughty” and “Beats to the Rhyme and Mark Wahlberg (aka Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch)- “The Last Song on Side B.”
The complaint also includes record labels such as Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group. Along with money damages, the suit is attempting to enjoin Defendants from further sampling of this song.
It is unclear why it took so long to bring suit, especially when you consider Usher’s single was released twenty years ago; however, considering Johnsons litigation experience, it is clear he defends what he thinks are his rights. With celebrity status such as Usher, there is little doubt that this will escalate as these artists defend the uniqueness of their songs.
While it may seem like Johnson is overly litigious (involved in lawsuits), copyright laws are in place to protect even the songs recorded in 1967 from being used without the author’s permission. Johnson’s ability to prove his claim will show whether there is any merit to the allegations. Until then, artists beware; “Different Strokes” does not want to share.